Companies warned of corporate ID theft

Individuals have been warned about the threat of identity theft for years. Now it's the turn of businesses.
Written by Munir Kotadia, Contributor
Individuals have been warned about the threat of identity theft for years. Now it's the turn of businesses.

U.K. police have said companies need to be more aware of the growing risk of corporate identity theft, following a recent spate of frauds that targeted customers of several high street banks.

The frauds reflect the experience of Australians in the last few months, who have been bombarded with fraudulent spam purporting to be from the National Australia Bank, ANZ, Westpac, St George bank and PayPal. The e-mails link to a Web site designed to look like the legitimate organisation's Web site, which then attempt to capture credit card and account details from the user. The latest tactic is for an e-mail to claim the users credit card has already been charged, and try to trick the user into entering the details to stop or reverse the payment.

The National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) in the UK, which works with the UK's law enforcement agencies to fight organised crime, is concerned about this growing phenomenon because the general population is often not computer-literate enough to tell the difference between a spoof e-mail or Web site and a genuine one. According to the NCIS, this lack of education makes it relatively simple for organised criminals to target online banking customers in an attempt to gain access to their accounts.

A spokesman for the NCIS, who requested anonymity so his name would not be used in future e-mail scams, said companies should work towards reducing the risk of their corporate identity being abused.

Basic precautions could start with a company ensuring it owns all the different permutations of its name. For example, if a customer received an e-mail from or was redirected to a Web site using the "barclays-banking.com" domain, they might believe it to be genuine, but Barclays does not own that address; at the time of writing, it is available for anyone to buy. Similarly, although Lloyds TSB owns "lloydstsb.co.uk", it does not own "lloydstsb-bank.co.uk", which could easily be used in a future 'phishing' trip.

This tactic would please domain name sellers, who often try to get companies to register as many variants on their name as possible.

The NCIS spokesman told ZDNet UK that people need to get to know the e-mail systems as well as they know the traditional postal system. "People know that stamps are perforated, business envelopes look a certain way and if they get a handwritten envelope from a business, they think 'that's a bit strange'. But with e-mail, although those indicators are present, people have not yet learned to look for them," he said.

Nigel Miller, commerce and technology partner at law firm Fox Williams, said banks are in a tricky position because on one hand they encourage customers to migrate to online banking services and try to convince them they are safe, but with the other hand they have to warn them of the risks. "What is the responsibility of the bank to educate their customers? It doesn't sound very good when you are trying to sell them a service, but have to tell them how risky it is," he said.

James Pearce from ZDNet Australia contributed to this report.

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